Patrick Mulenga '92
Blazing Africa's technical frontier
Not long ago, the central African country of Rwanda was a scary place, torn by civil war and ethnic strife. Now, though, the country of 8 million people adjacent to Uganda and Kenya is at peace and rapidly modernizing.
Patrick Mulenga '92 is a key player in that drive, leading a team developing new phone and data services, and wireless and fiber optics systems, in many cases where none have existed before.
Mulenga, born in Uganda to exiled Rwandese parents, came to Pacific looking for a quiet place in the United States to study. He found that at the University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration with a marketing emphasis.
Then, after a year working in Portland and Washington, D.C., Mulenga returned to Uganda and a sales job with Pepsi Co. After two years, he moved to Ogilvy and Mather Advertising's Kenya and Uganda operations. There he planned major media campaigns for several companies. When the agency closed its offices in Uganda, he opted to join MTN, a South African communications company in Rwanda. By that time, the war there was over and cellular phone technology was exploding across Africa. Mulenga applied his sales and marketing experience building the country's nascent communications infrastructure.
"This, I must say, was one of the greatest experiences in my entire career," he said. "New technology has always fascinated me and this was something that was entirely new." He was also "ecstatic" to go to Rwanda as "I was going to a home I had never been before."
Now, with Terracom, an American-owned and Rwandese-run communications company operating in Rwanda, Mulenga continues work on Africa's technical frontier. "What we are doing here is unique to Africa. This is revolutionizing communications in Rwanda and later Africa," he said.
Terracom is building a fiber-optic network, high speed Internet infrastructure, and wireless voice and data systems. While most Rwandans can't currently afford Internet and voice connections, part of the plan includes linking schools and government agencies first, as a foundation to build on. Also, Terracom's use of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology is less expensive than other approaches, which lowers access costs, ensuring the average Rwandese can afford communication services, Mulenga added.
Mulenga lives in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, a modern city of 850,000 people. He drives to work and uses the same technology he sells.
"I view technology as a developmental tool," he said. "We are so far behind the rest of the world, but will catch up soon based on the technologies that are currently being deployed. Rwanda is so committed to information technology and the things it can do and provide for the population of Rwanda . . . There is a major drive from the government to have a fully developed and integrated voice and data system in the country that's affordable for all."